Bradford: How the Red Sox became division champs

Rob Bradford
September 20, 2018 - 10:35 pm

WEEI.com photo

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NEW YORK -- Five Red Sox relievers were sitting around the visitors' dugout at Yankee Stadium late Tuesday afternoon, watching the rain pelt down while waiting to toss a few baseballs. The subject of who might win postseason awards came up.

Rookie of the Year. MVP. Cy Young. They all spawned some sort of debate among the group. Then there was Manager of the Year.

"How can you not give it to AC?"

It was as if the group uttered the words in unison, with each individual following the initial declaration with reasons supporting their opinion regarding Red Sox manager Alex Cora. What the moment represented was a microcosm of what the feeling from corner to corner to corner to corner of the Red Sox' clubhouse. And that was a big reason a few days later that square-ish locker room was plastered with champagne.

Alex Cora's Boston Red Sox are champions of the American League East.

(For a complete recap of the Red Sox' division-clinching win over the Yankees, click here.)

But while it's easy to identify Cora as the headliner of this team which has defined its regular season (yes, regular season) with 81 innings of pre-postseason baseball still to play, there's more to the story. The existence of this manager and this team should be studied, picked apart and appreciated by those who try to decipher such things. 

Whatever they did this time around, they got it right.

"There is no Cora Magic. There are good players," the manager said. "There is a lot of talent. There are a lot of people who have gone through this on a daily basis. The coaches have been amazing. The analytical staff. The medical staff. The front office. It’s a team. It takes a whole organization to be successful. That was the message from the get-go. It wasn’t going to be this area, and this area, and this area. It’s the other way around. We’re going to be as close as possible, share information and be together throughout. As of n,ow we’ve been able to do it and obviously, the goal is to keep doing it all the way until the end of October. Right now the only thing we have guaranteed is 163 and we know we are very close to have a chance instead of winning 12 in October to win the World Series we have a chance to win 11 and win it. We haven’t finished yet. But I’m very, very proud the way we’ve done things here."

You can cite payroll. They did win the division in the two previous years, as well. Contract uncertainty and the farm system have resulted in a layer of uneasiness. And the majority of the American League kind of stinks. Still, how can we begrudge what has happened?

The Red Sox have left the Yankees in their regular season dust with (at the time of this writing) 13 days, 16 hours and six minutes until that first playoff pitch is thrown.

They've always thought they had it figured out, and a lot of times it seems like that might be the case. Going with short-term contracts for guys who were considered gamers and glue in 2013 helped result in a World Series championship. Reverting back to the days of Terry Francona with John Farrell was the right move at the right time. Emptying the minor league cannons to get Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel was about as pivotal as decisions come. 

There was, however, always that perception they were grasping at just too many of the wrong straws. They take too many pitches. They don't take enough pitches. They don't need an ace. They do need an ace. They need to prioritize hitters like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Well, you know how that worked out.

To this point, this was the perfect storm of figuring out what was the right play at the exact right time.

This brings us back to Cora.

It would be unfair to use this moment to suggest John Farrell was the problem. You don't win as much as he did without good reason. But much like when Bobby Valentine was replaced, the Red Sox were correct in identifying that changes needed to be made. And this time the layers of issues had to be found well beneath something like a 69-win team.

The clubhouse had changed. The game of baseball had as well. As it turned out, Cora understood that more than maybe even the guys who hired him.

"He has put us in the right position to succeed," said Dustin Pedroia. "Thinking the game. Talking the game. Just trying to make everybody better."

"He's very versatile. He's very open. He's always looking to better us as people and as a team," explained Jackie Bradley Jr. "He is amazing. He is the right guy at the right time."

"His ability to keep it light, loose and fun, but still competitive at the same time is impressive," Matt Barnes added. "Having great communication with all the players, which is difficult to do as a manager is key. The fact everyone really, truly knows where they are at is a special thing."

The ultimate story has yet to be told. But what has graced the pages of this thing so far is worthy of a positive review. From manager, to coaching staff, to philosophies, to player acquisition. October? Who knows. But February through September 20 at exactly 11:12 p.m. ... they pretty much nailed it.

"It’s kind of one of those things, I’m like, we’ve only got nine more games left. That’s crazy," said J.D. Martinez. "We were talking about that. Why do I feel like the season went by so fast. It’s usually not like that. Usually you hit August and it’s kind of like dragging on and you look back and it’s like, wow, that’s a quick season."

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